It's poetic to think that dogs want to please us, but the reality is that dogs really just want to please themselves. In fact, there are two primary factors that motivate a dog to do something: To earn a reward or to avoid a punishment. When training a dog we should be setting up our dogs for success so they earn a yummy piece of food rather than punishing them for getting it wrong. Wouldn't you like a pat on the back or a little bonus in your check instead of being chided by your boss?
Food is a very powerful motivator for training dogs, but not all food is created equal. The quality and amount of food can have a direct effect on behavior. Animals work harder for more tasty (and smelly) foods. Also, if given a choice, animals prefer several small bits of food to one large bit of food, even if they both add up to the same amount. This is because the act of engaging in eating is itself very reinforcing. For instance, your dog's kibble or dry biscuits may work in the house when there are little or no distractions. Those dry morsels might be equivalent to a $10 an hour job for us. But once we step outside we have to give our dogs a "raise". In the yard or driveway maybe $20 an hour (e.g. commercial training treats, string cheese) will work. On a walk in an uncrowded space we may have to pay $50 an hour (e.g. stinky cheeses, hot dogs, liver, peanut butter), but a crowded event or visitors to the house requires us to shell out the big bucks!: Chicken, beef, sausage, spray cheese = $100 an hour.
Follow these tips* to help make your training more valuable to your dog:
The bottom line: Food is a motivator, just like your paycheck. You wouldn't do a difficult job for minimum wage. Why expect your dog to?
* Excerpted from the Association of Professional Dog Trainers
Esme is a puller, but with the right tools (a harness) and a reinforcer she wanted to work for (turkey) we had her heeling and walking without pulling in no time. Remember, the tool doesn't teach the dog to walk nicely, the training does.
Millie did great learning how to Come When Called. After she learned her recall games we
took her outside, a very distracting apartment community. Millie loves meeting her neighbors,
because they make a fuss over the cutie, but we were able to call her from them in the midst of being petted. That's pretty good!
Millie had a full day, learning Wait, Drop It, and Leave It. We practiced with food, socks, and paper towels and she did great with them all.
Ari loves playing with a toy, and after you throw it he happily brings it back and drops it at your feet. But when you try to pick it up he snatches it back. How do you fix this?
When a dog is doing an unwanted behavior the question to ask yourself is, what do I want him to do instead? The answer in this case was for Ari to simply wait for us to pick up the toy.
We actually taught him Wait a few weeks ago, and it means "be patient and something will happen for you" - like his food being put down, a door being opened, or a toy being picked up and thrown again. And sure enough, we threw a toy, Ari brought it back and dropped it, we asked him to wait, he let us pick it up, and we threw it again! No more racing for the toy. No more tugging. Play is now fun for everyone!
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, FFCP, CTDI